In my very, very early 20’s while studying journalism I got an internship doing something I had no idea how to do. The job was for a crusty old lawyer who had his own firm and a corner office in Chicago’s financial district. He wanted someone to help him self-publish a book of short stories as well as proofread, typeset, and print a collection of children’s short stories.
I sat in that windowed, corner office in front of him and his big desk as he told me what he wanted done and asked me if I could do it. I said I could. I said I’ll figure out how, and I’ll get it done. I know my heart was pounding and my bottom lip was probably quivering because I honestly had no idea how I would do these things, but I said it with enough conviction to convince him to hire me. And thus I spent the year learning about how to get an ISBN and work with writers and printers and how to set type on late 1980s computers and now-obsolete word processing software. Often getting yelled at, too, as I found my boss was exacting and had little patience for mistakes.
There was no internet to learn how to sort these things out, so I called people I thought might know–professors at universities, librarians, people at the newspapers, bookstores; most of them very happy to impart their knowledge (I think my youth and inexperience was a benefit, here). When I had to call some very prominent writers to ask for cover quotes, I got chewed out–royally–by an author who felt snubbed that he hadn’t been included in the book. I may have cried for an entire day over that, but I had a story to tell, and I still got quotes from some other authors.
Sure, the entire thing scared me, but I did what I said I’d do–I figured it out; I got it done. I got tougher in the process, that’s for sure.
I’ve done other things since then that required the weird mixture of blind bravado, hope, and maybe a shred of skill. But the older I get the more I have settled into the things I know, without fail, that I can do. The easy things. The things that don’t require lip-quivering and hesitation and panic.
A few weeks ago I got asked to do something I don’t know how to do, and I immediately thought of that internship. I said yes. I said I’d figure it out, and I’d get it done.
So that’s what I’m going to do.
(Edited to add that I think only fondly of my former boss, Mr. Morton, now. He was tough on me, but I know that he both cared about and appreciated me back then, and I learned invaluable lessons from him.)